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The Arkansas Black Apple Tree

The Arkansas Black Apple Tree originated in Benton County, Arkansas. If you find yourself picking apples in that part of Arkansas, you may be lucky enough to happen upon apples so deeply hued that they look like apples from a fairy tale. If you see these apples, you may be experiencing the sheer beauty of the Arkansas Black Apple tree.

An orchard of Arkansas Black Apple trees.
Orchard of Arkansas Black Apple trees.

These dark ruby apples have smooth, waxy skin and look delicious enough to grab and eat. However, if you do, you’ll be in for a surprise and think you’ve surely eaten one of Snow White’s poisonous apples! Never fear, Arkansas Black Apples aren’t poisonous. However, they aren’t meant to be eaten directly off the tree. Instead, they have to age in cold storage for a couple of months.

History of the Arkansas Black Apple Tree

The legend says that Arkansas Black Apples trees were raised by an Arkansas settler named John Crawford in the 1840s. Later in that century, they were grown all over the state and into Missouri. This tree is a true native to the states of Arkansas and Missouri in the Ozarks. 

Another source suggests that this apple may have originated in the orchard of a farmer named Mr. Brathwait, who lived about a mile and half northwest of Bentonville, Arkansas. 

Experts believe that the Arkansas Black Apple tree was a seedling of the Winesap apple tree.

Arkansas’s Doomed Apple Industry

During the 1900s, this unique apple made up about 15-20% of Arkansas’s apple production, and the state developed a sizeable economy around producing apples. Unfortunately, moth infestations and the spraying required to rid the trees of the infestation drove the price of these apples up.

The moth infestations were followed by several years of drought conditions that stressed the trees in the orchards. Also, the onset of the Great Depression served to wipe out much of the hard-earned commercial apple industry in Arkansas.

Sadly, the Arkansas apple industry was never able to recover from this series of misfortunes. 

Nevertheless, families continued to maintain these unusual apple trees in their yards, but they were mostly used for home cooking and baking.

Renewed Interest in the Arkansas Black Apple

Currently, Arkansas Black Apples make up between three and five percent of Arkansas’s apple production. I n the last 10 years or so, local chefs have become newly interested in the heritage crop and they’ve started using it to add unique elements to not only pie fillings, but also meat accompaniments and cheese pairings.

Fruit Tree / Fruit Characteristics

Arkansas Black Apples are sometimes called “The Cabernet of the Apples.” In terms of adaptability, this apple should be at the top of every apple grower’s list. 

The fine-grained flesh of this fruit is medium-pale yellow, crisp, aromatic, and juicy with high acid content. 

The apples are medium in size and they are usually round. The skin of this apple is such a dark red that it appears to be nearly black in color. 

Black background with a partially shown dark red apple that resembles the fruit of the Arkansas Black Apple tree.

When this tree blooms, you will be rewarded with fragrant blooms that have a tinge of pink. The trees have beautiful green foliage and live for a long time. Your Arkansas Black Apple trees will produce fruit within three to five years after planting. 

These trees are oval in shape and offer privacy when planted in rows along property lines. 

Planting Zones

The Arkansas Black Apple tree is able to adapt to several climates. This tree can tolerate the hot summer California temperatures that sometimes soar to more than 110 degrees. Alternatively, this apple also does very well in colder climates that are found in USDA Hardiness Zone 5a and are hardy in up to -15 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit.

These trees also grow well in the coastal planting zones of 8a, 8b, 9, and 10. 

For more information on growing this tree, visit our article about “How to Plant Apple Trees.”

Size and Spacing

At maturity, Arkansas Black Apple trees will be between 12 and 15 feet tall, with some reaching up to 20 feet in height. The mature spread is also 12-15 feet. 

Pollination

Arkansas Black Apple trees are technically self-pollinating, but you will enjoy better fruit when you plant them in your existing orchard with other apple trees. Some good pollinators include the Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, Gala, McIntosh, Granny Smith, or Empire apple trees. 

Closeup of pinkish white apple tree blossoms.
Blooming apple tree in spring time.

Tree Care

Arkansas Black Apple trees grow well in most soils and thrive in soil that is well-drained. These trees will even tolerate acidic soil as long as the soil area has consistent moisture. 

Make sure that wherever you plant your tree will give the tree plenty of air circulation. 

Sunlight

Like all apple trees, the Arkansas Black Apple tree needs a full day of sunlight. However, this tree will produce fruit as long as it has at least six or more hours every day of direct sunlight. 

Watering

The Arkansas Black Apple tree is not drought tolerant, so you will probably need to supplement your area’s rainfall with watering during dry months, especially when planted in warmer zones. 

Closeup of person holding a garden hose with water spraying from it.

These trees need water every week. Check your soil’s moisture down to about two to three inches. If it’s dry to that depth, you need to water your tree. 

Mulching

Mulching your Arkansas Black Apple trees is especially important in hot, dry climates. A good mulch will protect your trees from sunspots on the sunny side of the apples. Mulching will also keep your root system cool and serve to prevent premature fruit drop, a common problem in hot and dry climates. 

When you mulch your trees, you will also be improving your overall soil quality and cutting down the amount of water you will need throughout the growing season. 

Pruning

When you prune your apple trees, be sure to do so when the trees are dormant. Prune so that you can keep your tree’s canopy open to allow sunlight and air circulation into the tree’s interior. To do this, remove upright, vigorous stems along with damaged, weak, and dead branches. 

To learn more about pruning this tree, read “Pruning Apple Trees” on our website.

Diseases & Care

The Arkansas Black Apple is susceptible to two common apple diseases: fire blight and apple scab

You can control apple scab with chemical sprays, and careful pruning can sometimes save a tree that has been affected by fire blight. 

For more information about preventive apple tree care, read our guide “When To Spray Apple Trees.

Common Uses For the Arkansas Black Apple Tree

Arkansas Black Apples are commonly used for eating raw after they’ve had a few months to ripen and sweeten in cold storage. The Arkansas Black Apple is a dessert apple and is frequently used in recipes for cobblers, pies, and table dishes. 

Prior to the advent of refrigeration, Arkansas Black Apples were typically dried for future use. Early growers also crushed the apples for cider, juice, or apple cider vinegar. Another popular use in the early years of this apple’s popularity was to make apple butter for serving during the months following harvest. 

Arkansas Black Apple trees are also ornamental. With the beautiful vibrant green foliage and dark ruby red gems, you will enjoy having this tree in your yard or orchard. As a standalone landscape tree, the Arkansas Black Apple tree makes a great focal point tree. 

What Do Arkansas Black Apples Taste Like?

The Arkansas Black Apple is a crisp, tart apple that starts out firm. Early reviewers of this apple even noted that it has the quality of an apple that — once ripened — was already prepared to go straight into a dessert.

In the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, the writer also noted that the apple is like a tart apple that has had sugar added. The reviewer said that there was a hint of honey flavor and even some vanilla notes. Nearer the core, there is a faint but definite undertone of almond. 

Cooking

In an Arkansas Black Apple, there are more interesting flavors than you find in a Fuji or Red Delicious. When this apple is ripe, your patience will be rewarded with the exquisite taste of a firm, sweet apple that has notes of cinnamon, cherry, coriander, and vanilla. 

Eating Raw

The best thing to do with Arkansas Black Apples is to pick them from the trees and put them in the refrigerator for a few months. You may just find that this apple is one of the sweetest you have ever eaten. 

This apple is excellent when paired with a cheese and meat tray, in pies and desserts, and served in salads. Arkansas Black Apples also make an excellent hard cider or applesauce. 

Canning / Freezing / Drying

Arkansas Black Apples require a couple of months to ripen in your refrigerator. During this time, the thick skin helps to preserve it. In total, these apples will keep for minimally three to four months. Thanks to its firm texture, the Arkansas Black Apple holds its shape well while in storage.

If you want to preserve your Arkansas Black Apples, you will be delighted to learn that there are tons of ways to can, freeze, and dehydrate your apples. This comprehensive guide from the University of Illinois Extension gives instructions and best practices for preserving apples.

Canning

You can preserve your Arkansas Black Apples as apple slices or make an apple pie filling. There are also plentiful recipes online for chutneys and apple butter.

Freezing

The best way to freeze apples is to freeze them in sugar syrup, which will help them retain better flavor and texture.

You can’t blanch apples for freezing. Instead, you need to add ascorbic acid to control the fruit’s enzymes. The ascorbic acid will serve to help keep your apples from browning and it will preserve the vitamin C.

Drying

Arkansas Black Apples offer a bountiful harvest, and if you have excess apples, you can dehydrate them.

You can make any of the following dried apple snacks:

  • Classic chewy apple slices
  • Crunchy apple chips
  • Chewy or crunchy apple rings
  • Chewy apples

You can dehydrate your apples in a dehydrator or your oven. Check out our guide: “How to Dehydrate Apples.”

Recipes for Arkansas Black Apples

Arkansas Black Apples make excellent apple cider vinegar. You can even use the rich red peels and the cores to make your cider. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully to make sure your apple cider vinegar is safe and shelf-stable.

More Recipes for Arkansas Black Apples

On our website, we have several amazing recipes that you can make to enjoy your Arkansas Black Apple harvest.

Closeup of Apple Dumplings  with vanilla ice cream -- a great recipe for Arkansas Black Apple tree apples.
Perfect Apple Dumplings (click for the recipe).

Health Benefits of the Arkansas Black Apple

The health benefits of apples have been well documented over the years by scientific and nutritional studies. An apple only has about 100 calories, and apples are full of essential nutrients. 

  • Vitamin C: 14% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Vitamin K: 5% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 6% of the RDI
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Vitamins A, E, B1, B2, B6

For more information on the many benefits of this fruit, read “Health Benefits of Apples.”

Where To Buy This Fruit Tree?

You can buy the Arkansas Black Apple tree at Nature Hills Nursery online. The company says that this tree sells out quickly, so be sure you order early. 

Where To Buy the Fruit

When it comes to buying this fruit, keep in mind that there are fewer than 150 Arkansas Black Apple growers in the state of Arkansas. Most of them have small orchards and sell their harvest to farm stands and farmer’s markets. 

Arkansas Black Apples start appearing on store shelves in regions where they grow naturally around late November and continuing into early February. If you’re lucky enough to find these apples at a grocery store or produce stand, buy them up because they won’t last for long. 

Wrapping up the Arkansas Black Apple Tree

The Arkansas Black Apple tree is an interesting fruit tree that will reward you with apples that keep for months. These trees are a great addition to any orchard. 

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